What Fear? (100K and Beyond)
By: Jesse Chula
Earlier this week I embarked on a 16 week, full-scale training program for the Cloudsplitter 100K in October. I’ve always thrived inside the comfy confines of a mapped out, well-scheduled regimen - resplendent in all its iCal radiance. I guess it’s always made me feel like a well constructed sentence of prose tucked neatly between 2 parenthesis that guard my beginning and end. Complete control.
This plan has it all, it really brings the pain. Runs of all distance: medium, long, hill repeats, cross and strength training, days of rest, days of racing (Hot Hot Hundred), trips to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, laps around the neighborhood pushing the baby stroller, trips to Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, trips to trails I dare not mention (for they are best kept local secrets), and enough good craft beer to wash it all down with (for what it’s worth, my longest training run peaks at 30 miles). But the one thing my plan was missing, at least on paper, was time set aside to train my mind.
“Doesn’t the mental aspect of training directly coincide with the physical?”, you’re thinking. Yes, it does, of course. But how, exactly? Am I to assume the mental capacity required to stay upright for 15, 16, 17+ hours (some night running) will somehow miraculously embed itself into my subconscious by what, just slogging through a few hundred sweaty summer miles? Can I train without thinking? If not, what’s the most effective way to mentally prepare myself for running 100K through Pine Mountain, deep in the heart of Central Appalachia? What are the tangibles to mental training? I needed to dig deeper.
The questions I had about mental training naturally got me thinking about fear. How it plays with your mind, how it tricks you into thinking negatively, and how really powerful it can be, if you let it. In ultra running, lack of mental preparation breeds fear, and fear breeds DNFs, or worse, a DNS. Alternatively, however, strong mental training and readiness crushes fear before it begins to whisper to you, before it can gain a foothold in your psyche. Recognizing this fact and looking it square in the face is half the battle to beating it, at least I think it is.
I recently exchanged text messages with a buddy:
While my challenges likely don’t look much different from others who are training for a race of ultra distance, my realization is that with good enough balance of mental and physical training over the next 4 months, I can easily overcome them. I need not just think about running, but instead lay aside intentional time inside and outside of training to analyze every aspect of what’s required of me on race day. No stone left unturned, leave nothing to chance.
Although I’ve yet to answer every question or concern I have regarding the mental aspect of ultra running, for now, I’ll fall back on a tried and true mental exercise. When training for the Chicago Marathon during the Summer of 2014, and when faced with the ‘rolling’ landscapes of Central KY roads and neighborhoods, I began to whisper to myself in defiance, “what hills?”. Then, with a smile on my face, I said it again, and then again after that. And although it took some time and persistence, it started to work. I began to mentally waltz up hills in training with ease and my body followed. Were my legs and body getting stronger, had I mentally defeated the climbs, or was it a combination of both? Whatever it was, related or not, I cut 40+ minutes off my marathon PR that fall and still to this day approach hills and climbing with optimism and anticipation.
With that said, I say to night running and navigating in the dark, “what night running? just go”, to pain, “what pain?”, to getting enough calories, “just eat”, and most importantly to fear, “what fear?”.